As some people may be familiar with, LeSean Thomas worked on a past anime for Netflix, which was Cannon Busters. But Cannon Busters felt like one of those series where the creator is just taking a bunch of ideas and pouring them into a show. And the outcome was meh at best, but surely the creator learned with his mistakes and did better with Yasuke, right?
Nope, if anything this was a worse experience than Cannon Busters. SPOILERS WARNING since this review will be covering the entire anime:
Story- The story begins with former samurai Yasuke being asked by Ichika to escort her daughter to a doctor because of how she is suffering from her powers. And that is the first major stumbling block of the Yasuke anime. The writer(s) never establish what Saki's powers are or explain the power system in Yasuke. Power systems are a big deal to me since I grew up with shounens, and they add to the balance and structure of the story. In Yasuke however, magic does whatever the creator wants it to do.
I don't like using the term asspull, but it perfectly describes how the majority of fights and problems are solved in Yasuke. Such as the fight with the priest, where Yasuke breaks free easily after receiving an ass-whupping. Or Saki just comes out of nowhere to remove Mitsuhide's dark magic power-up. And also where Saki just goes super butterfly on the Daimyo.(I swear the author must have gotten that from Naruto.)
The biggest one is where Saki resurrects Yasuke from being dead, while she's crying if I may add. This reminds me of the scene from the first Pokemon movie where Ash dies and is brought back to life. And while that movie doesn't have the best writing, the build up and the music did add to the scene. Yasuke's resurrection on the other hand I felt nothing. And I think that has to do with there being no chemistry between Yasuke and Saki. But I'll touch more on that.
Animation- The animation, when its not involving a fight scene, is average mostly. Even then, the fights are fine for what they are. But they are otherwise forgettable. But then again, Mappa was juggling a lot of anime works, so can you really blame them?
Sound- While I may not be super familiar with Flying Lotus, he did create the opening and the OSTs. Some people may argue that they don't fit the time period of the show, but you know what else didn't fit in the show? Mechas. The creator really went all out, for better or for worse. So yes, I do like the soundtracks, since its one of the parts of the anime where I felt the most effort was put in.
Characters- If I had to be brutally honest, every other character besides the protagonist sucked. They're all stereotypes that have been seen in other anime. Abraham feels like a scoffed version of Anderson from Hellsing Ultimate. And with Kurosaka, we already have a badass demonic female swordman in the form of Teresa from Claymore. Hell, I'll toss in all the female arrancars from Bleach, simply because they leave a longer impression than Kurosaka.
Have I talked about the Daimyo, cause I haven't. Daimyo is the name of a position in old-era Japan, and yet its this character's actual name. She looks like a scoffed version of Silene from Devilman. Other than having a thirst for power, that's all that sums up her character.
As with Yasuke and Saki, there's just something half-baked about this relationship. It could be that their voice actors sounded inexperienced with voice acting. Or it could be out of obligation, since Yasuke seeks redemption after killing his master. So helping Saki could be a form of atonement. The creator could have developed their arc a lot, maybe aiming for that father and daughter relationship that Ellie and Joel had in The Last of Us.
The creator did say he was influenced by Lone Wolf and Cub, so it could have happened.
Except that there were only 6 episodes in the season. And Saki, when she's not being an annoyance(since there's nothing endearing about her), provides solutions in the story when the creator demands it. That's not a character, that's a plot device. If there's one positive I will say, at least Yasuke doesn't feel like an asshole compared to the protagonist of Cannon Busters. But at the same time it feels like wasted potential.
Overall- I did not like this anime a lot. Everything that it attempted to do has been done better already. There were two things I liked about this anime though. The contorted body death scene that happened to one of the mercenaries(episode 5), that was well animated. And Johnny Bosch voicing a fat samurai in episode 4, that was amazing.
But I think the problem is that LeSean Thomas is not good at writing action-adventure anime. He just isn't at that level quite yet. However, he is good at doing comedy-dramas, since he did work on the first two seasons of Boondocks. That's something worth checking out if you're depressed from sitting through this anime like I am.
Yasuke is the kind of project that feels obvious in conception, but bleakly novel in reality. If someone had told me five years ago that a big-budget anime based on the real-life black samurai of 16th century Japan was going to be made by a lead on The Boondocks & star the stoner guy from Atlanta I’d have thought, that sounds about right. Do it.
Well, here we are, drowning in all...six episodes of LeSean Thomas’s anime mini-series, and yet when you google “black anime characters” you still find mostly supporting roles and just a few leads. So, Yasuke presents us with something of a look at the world that could have been. It’s a completely functional tale of a man finding his second act after living through enough pain for several lifetimes. Backed by high production values, magical embellishments, and nary a sex scene or curse, its (cartoonish gore aside) remarkably accessible for the non-weeb public. As I write this the show sits in Netflix’s top ten.
Our title character is a stranger in a strange land, but not a blank slate; he brings his own values and we see how he internalizes those of others. He becomes a samurai and respected warrior, but his position as a servant shadows his career. He will always be the one black friend (or rival) to every soul in the country. Yasuke gives you a tortured protagonist to invest in while never devolving into misery porn and keeps from becoming a history lesson by filling in the edges with sci-fi pulp.
Yasuke’s (the character) journey mirrors that of black creatives in entertainment. This U.S.-Japan co-production feels like it escaped through a wormhole from a world once promised to black film directors and audiences in the 1990s. Thirty years ago was an exciting time for black voices in cinema with the Boyz N the Hood, Jungle Fever, and New Jack City all releasing the same year. After the 1970s, black-led films stalled for a decade (with a couple of exceptions such as Eddie Murphy playing a cop) before a relaunch with the clout of Sundance awards.
As the decade closed, however, each of those new talents had their careers axed as they pursued more ambitious films outside urban drama or were squeezed into ill-fitting blockbuster projects doomed to underperform commercially or critically. They were often afforded just one chance in the spotlight and then quickly dropped. Only in the last decade have black project leads peppered box office reports and slipped in the margins of awards season. This time they are unignorable by white audiences and financers, but there’s still a catch: they’re treated as a trend.
To be part of a trend, Yasuke must be deliberate in some conniving way. This is laughable because every show and movie is planned. The obvious example here is the mechs and magic that fill in the series’s historical setting in a bid to appeal to a larger audience outside the current Isekai trend. LeSean Thomas set out to make a show that could appeal to a wider demo than Re:Zero; after all, the market for shows like Demon Slayer or Attack on Titan practically dwarfs the competition.
Yasuke delivers the goods in six episodes split into two arcs. The first three detail his purchase by warlord Nobunaga and fighting alongside ally Natsumaru juxtaposed with a time skip decades later. In the present he is a classic broken man, eking out a living as a ferryman until a local woman asks him to secret away her daughter. The girl, Saki, is another trope: a golden child, blessed with psychic powers that make her a target for multiple factions.
What doesn’t come packaged with this road trip are the kinds of detours into racism that litter American TV & film. There’s the odd comment on his darkness needing cleaning or that being a servant one can not make his own destiny despite his novelty. Notably, almost all the villains regard Yasuke with some degree of respect, if merely for his swordsmanship. This is to say, we’re not treated to gratuitous abuse of black bodies. Thomas respects his audience to get that Yasuke is obviously not of this land without all that and aside from the loaded image of Yasuke in captivity, we see our hero instead battle naysayers & tyrants, not samurai lynch mobs.
This arc is also the introduction of four mercenaries that seem to throw viewers more than anything else. It’s not that a robot and a shapeshifter are anachronistic in the show’s historical setting (and they are, the year is regularly dropped in on-screen text), but it’s that they barely have time to grow on viewers in the short running time. They, like Yasuke and Saki, do have a small collective character arc, they just don’t get to inhabit the world and step outside of their two-dimensionality of “I enjoy killing people with you.” They are there for flavor, not allegory, and to tease the complexity and size of the world should a second season come.
The mercs are such a sure-fire collection of anime indulgences I’m confident that with more time they would have overtaken the hero’s popularity. They’re both a missed opportunity and not a real problem. Let me throw a Blake Snyder term at you: “Double Mumbo Jumbo”. This is the screenwriting rule that an audience can only accept one fantastical element in a story. You can have vampires or aliens, but you can’t have both. I believe there is some validity to this. Audiences expecting a historical drama are already doing some readjusting in the show’s opening minutes as Nobunaga’s forces battle mechs with blue lightning magic. So it’s to the writers’ credit that “Yasuke” knows sincerity wins hearts and minds.
Take Gintama, a sci-fi action comedy about samurai and aliens and a big dog, and it’s two hundred episodes long with three movies and I do not like it. Although Gintama does have a heart, its minute-to-minute speed is zany. It’s kind of a goofball, anything-goes approach something like Adventure Time revels in and it just puts me off. Why should I care? Yasuke wants you to have fun, crack a beer, maybe even recommend the show to your dad, and instead of smothering you in twee anime shenanigans, it chooses love. Love for mechas, animal people, psychic battles, and villainizing Catholic missionaries.
There is no law that requires a historically based story to be as dry as a textbook nor is the answer in pandering to the kids with chibi fluff. Yasuke’s solution is fantasy chanbara with all the trimmings, but played straight. There’s a baddie out there and rather than with a smirk or a groan, the black samurai speaks honestly with others, asking for bygones to be bygones when addressing an old foe or makes it snappy with allies as he battles intrusive memories. He’s a deeply human character in a very human tale. That also has big monster fights.
The second set of episodes, however, are mixed as the show keeps up the same speed and energy admirably, but towards a climax that would feel extravagant in a twelve-episode series. Yasuke is made to make peace with his past in a hoary magic fight while Saki takes center stage in a show no one hit play for. The mercs also suffer here: friendships are declared before abrupt endings and bittersweet farewells, again, they just don’t have the history needed to bring tears. That the show still looks incredible in these final episodes as the story peters out is a save I think only an anime could pull.
Seeing Yasuke don his armor again and lead an army is pure hype. The interpersonal asides during the final fights trace the characters’ journeys to this moment far better than the clip shows we see in battle Shonen. The show’s heart is so big, the expected triumphant declarations of the blinding finale put you at ease that it may have been bumpy, but a ride worth taking.
The only things I can’t abide by include the disposability of the women for one. Both Yasuke and Saki have found family ripped from them so that they may meet each other with emotional holes to fill in the other. It works, but it’s not fun watching these capable women warriors die well before the meat of the story. The other issue is Lakieth Stanfield and look, I’m sure the show likely wouldn’t have come together the way it did without his involvement (he has a nebulous producer credit). His casting alone is just a drop in the bucket among the many screen actors in roles better suited to voice actors. That performance though? Stanfield speaks, appropriately, as if his chin rests on his chest, in short, honest bursts. I think he and Thomas were going for a gentle giant and instead landed on a groggy teen.
Yasuke is hardly perfect, but the fact that it’s so confident in its non-weebness (no destinies, no ubermensch, no fanservice, no harem!) makes me love its eccentricities all the more. All this and saying nothing of Flying Lotus should be enough for any adventure fan, but that soundtrack....that’s gonna be on the old Spotify for a bit. Flylo’s music arguably promises a more epic experience than we get yet never feels bombastic. “Between Memories” closes episodes like a long stretch after waking from a pleasant dream; the screen is often alight with carnage, but warmth is what I hear and feel from this American anime/cartoon/Japanimation/who gives a fuck. And like the sound, the last images we get of Yasuke in a Ghibli-esque forest promise a bright future, once robbed, on the horizon.
i am very disappointed when i saw the trailer i was kinda hyped after that they gave me Robots
Well what to say
This show was a pile of interesting ideas, the potential for great story and presentation of historical happenings buttt,
everything went south really fast
The story is one huge recap slash speed deal mix kinda thing
Let me explain:
Firstly, the whole show is seen from the perspective of Yasuke who remembers his past as a general of Oda Nobunaga and lives a quiet life as a fisherman somewhere nowhere in feudal Japan. This is already a waste of potential and storytelling as everything that could be interesting about the show went to waste, it was too fast and too messy.
Yasuke remained a very shallow character overall
Secondly, they introduced robots, mutants, isekai level magic powers in a story about a historical figure and his life in feudal Japan, like wtf were they thinking
The girl called Saki that ended up teaming up with Yasuke later on went from very ill in the first 2 episodes to walking around destroying every bad guy coming her way with insane magical powers that she learned to control in less than a day in the show and 5 min in the episode
Lastly, the show was enjoyable to some point as even if it was a total mess it had great animation and fighting sequences as well good voice acting (in some characters).
My advice is that you watch the fighting sequences and maybe if interesting in historical stuff the moments of Yasuke's remembering moments
Such a shame what they presented, did, and wasted time on to what they could have achieved, presented and showed
Kinda Spoilers and Minor language: I haven't watched any trailers or even read the description of this show and entered with no biases or opinions whatsoever. I was a bit excited when I saw the main character was black and then was shot down by the Americanized Animation in the first episode, until the 'fight scene' which was actually super detailed which neutralized the scoring. The story had a huge amount of potential, but the way the Story unfolded did feel more like a 'the power of friendship will always prevail' sort of stylistic which was a show turnoff for me, but I watched it on an 10 hour airplane trip so that also cancels out. With Characters, I am in LOVE with the design element of the characters, especially the main character and the 'supposed' antagonists, but mainly the MC, finally, after years they give us a Black MAIN CHARACTER that isn't a lighting user, or poison/snake charmer, like wow, and a Samurai at that. And the way they created the backstory for Yasuke was incredible. I do feel that power balance wise througout the characters could have been more balanced as it made it feel all the power was in the secondary main character, and I would have ranked the category just a tiny bit higher but I lowkey despise Saki I think her name was. And for Sound, *chef's kiss* the way how they managed to compose trap music into a more hestorically styled show and managed to slide in an entire BARI SAX! Amazing, the Bari even had an entire piece I believe in the second episode and it was so good I forgot I was watching a show and don't remember what happened that episode. Overall, It was for the most part pretty good, it's just the minor things that they could have done to make the show way better, but gawd dayum that Bari Sax has me bustin.
Edit: With Characters, I was really impressive with the design of Yasuke and the fact that he had multiple and realistic hairstyles throughout all of them instead of slapping white strait hair onto him.